Hiking the Salkantay trek (5D/4N) to Machu Picchu

Hiking the Salkantay trek (5D/4N) to Machu Picchu

On Friday 21/09 we started the Salkantay Trek to Machu Picchu. The day before we already met our team members, 4 other couples (our nickname was “Honeymooners”), who were all very nice and friendly. It was a great group to hike with for 5 days! 

After meeting up at the Salkantay Trekking office at 4 AM, we drove for about 3 hours before we reached Challacancha, from where we started our 5 day hike. I was very excited to finally start this trek, since I had been looking forward to it for almost half a year. Simen, on the other hand, felt a bit more apprehensive since he was worried he’d be struggling with the altitude. The Salkantay Trek is the only trek that goes up to 4600 metres, so our guide Roy warned us we could potentially suffer from altitude sickness.

Day 1: Mollampata to Soraypampa (8 km)

Before starting the hike, Roy provided us with some snacks and walking poles. Around 9 AM we were ready to leave, and I was really looking forward to it. Day 1 was supposed to be the easiest one, we’d only walk for about 8 KM and hike up for about 500 metres. It sounded very doable. The start of the hike consisted of a switchback trail which only went up about 100 metres, so I wasn’t expecting any issues.

Machu Picchu

Altitude sickness strikes again

However, the minute we started, I felt I had some issues breathing properly. After only 15 minutes, I felt my stomach twist and turn. It felt like I was going to throw up… I felt horrible and we had only just started the hike. It was enough for me to get worried about the rest of the hike, because if I already felt bad during the first 15 minutes of the easiest day, what was going to happen the next couple of days? Was I even going to manage the trek at all?

We decided to walk a bit slower. I also ate some coca candy to hopefully get rid of the altitude sickness. Luckily, our guide Roy was very understanding and stopped every 10 minutes to make sure we could catch our breaths. After about 4 hours of walking we reached our first camp: the sky domes. These are domes made of glass which give you an amazing view over Humantay mountain and Salkantay Mountain. We rested for a bit, had an amazing lunch and got ready for the second part of the day: the hike up to Humantay Lake.

Machu Picchu
Humantay Lake

Gorgeous views at Humantay Lake

After eating, I felt a bit better. However, the minute we started hiking, I could feel my body protest again. My legs didn’t want to cooperate and I advanced very, very slowly. I felt a bit bad for making the majority of the group wait for me, but Roy told us to take our time and not worry. About 1 hour later, we reached Humantay Lake. It was absolutely breathtaking! We stayed here for about an hour, taking pictures and walking around, before heading back down and getting some much needed rest. Since day 2 of the Salkantay Trek was supposed to be the hardest of them all, we were definitely going to need that.

Day 2: Soraypampa to Chaullay (24 km)

The Salkantay Trekking team woke us up at around 5 AM with a hot cup of coca tea. Since I had been struggling the previous day, I decided to take my precautions. Not only did I drink the coca tea, I also made sure to chew coca leaves regularly during the hike. Roy had warned us the night before that day 2 was going to be exhausting. As if walking for 24km wasn’t enough, we were also going up to 4600 metres! We were offered the possibility of renting a horse, but because we both wanted to walk the whole trek, we declined. This meant we had to walk all the way up to the Salkantay Pass, because once we started hiking, we had to finish as well. There was no possibility of renting a horse on the way to the Salkantay Pass.

Machu Picchu Machu Picchu

The Gringo Killer

Luckily, I noticed almost immediately that my body felt a bit more normal again. I didn’t struggle as much keeping up with everyone else (although they were still quite a lot faster than us!). The first part of day 2 was quite easy, the trail was pretty flat and we ascended gradually. After the flat part, it was time for the hardest part of the day: the trail of the 7 snakes, or also known as “the Gringo Killer”. This is a switchback trail which took us up to 4400 metres altitude. Thanks to a lot of breaks, we managed to conquer the Gringo Killer and were now almost at the Salkantay Pass. Now everyone started to feel the altitude as the pace dropped a bit and everyone’s breathing got heavier. About 3h and 20 minutes after leaving, we all reached the Salkantay Pass!
Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu

Very long hike downhill

Here we were treated to another cup of hot coca tea and a tasty sandwich, carried up by one of the chefs. We rested for about an hour, taking pictures and admiring the beautiful views on Salkantay Mountain. Afterwards, we started the descent towards Wayracmachay, where we were going to have lunch. I was happy to walk downhill for a bit, until I realised the blisters which had been bothering me during Colca Canyon, were back. They were getting very painful, and we started losing ground on the rest of the group. Every step was agonizing…

Luckily, Roy came to my rescue. However, after taking one good look at my feet he called me a “blister factory” while another guide said I was “blister woman”…  I guess that makes sense when you have about 20 blisters on your feet! After lunch, we had to descend another 1000 metres (we had already done 800 m down). After walking for 24 km and about 8 hours we finally reached camp 2. Here we slept in small Andean huts and had the opportunity to take a shower for €2.50.

Day 3: Chaullay to Lucmabamba (13 km)

Roy had told us day 3 was a rest day, since we were “only” going to walk for about 4 hours. The way to Lucmabamba was mainly flat and downhill with some uphill stretches. At around 11 AM we were already done walking for the day, which was a nice surprise. We stopped for a coffee tour on the way, where we got to pluck our own coffee beans and watch how they make coffee from start to finish. Afterwards we were all allowed to try the coffee, which was apparently the most amazing coffee people had ever had.
Machu Picchu
We got picked up by a van and were brought to our campsite of the night: the jungle domes. These domes resembled the sky domes from day 1, only they weren’t seethrough. During the afternoon we had the option of going to the hotsprings (50 soles) or go ziplining (110 soles). However, Simen wasn’t feeling great so we decided to stay at the campsite and get some rest instead. Day 4 was waiting for us, which was the longest day of them all: a staggering 27 km!

Machu Picchu
Simen grinding coffee beans

Day 4: Lucmabamba to Aguas Calientes (27 km)

On day 4 we got up even earlier, at around 4 AM. We had a very long, but also exciting day ahead of us. Today we were going to catch a first glimpse of Machu Picchu! The first part of the day was very heavy, since we had to hike up 800 metres on a very steep hill. After a lot of swearing and cursing, we finally arrived at the top of the hill about 2h and 40 min later. We stopped at the ruins of Llactapata where we got to see Machu Picchu for the first time. It felt really nice to finally see it, after almost 4 days of hiking.

Machu Picchu
Machu Picchu in the background

The second part of the day was a 1000 metres downhill, which was not good for my blisters. My feet were aching again and I had to stop on the way to pop them because I could barely walk down properly. The last part of the day was a 3 hour walk next to the train tracks leading to Aguas Calientes, our “camp” for that day.
Machu Picchu
This last part was the most boring part of the whole trek, since we didn’t get to see that much and we were just following the train tracks for a very long time. We could’ve avoided this part by taking the train for 30 dollars, but we really wanted to walk the whole trek ourselves. At about 3.30 PM we finally arrived at Aguas Calientes, ready for a refreshing shower and a tasty dinner. Roy told us that we were going to have to get up very early the next day to be able to beat the crowds at the entrance towards Machu Picchu. We had to make sure we left the hostel at 3.40 AM!
Machu Picchu

Day 5: Aguas Calientes to Machu Picchu (15 km)

After a very short night sleep, our alarm clocks went off at 3.15. I had never woken up this early on my birthday. We walked towards the entrance in the dark, and were among the first to arrive. Three other couples from our team had already arrived and were the first ones to get in. It was now 4.10 and the gates didn’t open until 5 AM. At around 4.30 the majority of the people started to arrive and people were queueing as far as the eye could see. I was dreading this last part of the trek because Roy had told us it was straight up for about an hour (500 metres up). We could also take the bus for 12 dollars, but we felt like we were this close and didn’t want to “give up”.

Heavy hike up to the entrance of Machu Picchu

At exactly 5 AM the gates opened, our passports and tickets were checked and we were allowed entrance to hike up to Machu Picchu. Roy had told us people usually sprint up the mountain to be the first to actually enter Machu Picchu, but my legs were aching so we decided to take it a bit slower. We got passed by quite a lot of people, and by the time we reached the actual entrance about a hundred people were already queueing. In the meantime the buses had also arrived, so it was clear we weren’t going to be the first ones to enter the complex.
Machu Picchu

After 5 days of hiking we finally go to see Machu Picchu!

I heard a Belgian girl complain that all the “hikers” were cutting in line, which she didn’t appreciate. She took the easy way out and took the bus up and expected to have preference over people who had been hiking for days and hiked straight up the hill for an hour! At 6 AM the gates to Machu Picchu were opened and we were finally granted entrance. I was so excited! I had been waiting for this moment for years. It was so amazing to see Machu Picchu with my own eyes. It’s even more impressive in real life! After taking lots of pictures from different places and angles, Roy gave us a tour through the whole complex before saying our goodbyes.

Hiking up Huayna Picchu

Everyone in our group was still planning on doing one more hike: to Machu Picchu mountain or Huayna Picchu. We had opted for Huayna Picchu. After 5 days of strenuous hiking, Simen wasn’t really feeling hiking up Huayna Picchu anymore. However, I managed to convince him and at around 10.15 we started the hike up. We had to climb another 500 metres straight up. The trail leading up to the mountain consisted of mainly steps. There were chains which you could hold on to or pull yourself up with.

The last part was particularly steep, with super small steps and no chains to hold on to anymore. Everyone was crawling up on all fours because of the steepness! I’ve never had to do that before. After about 40 minutes we reached the summit from where we got a great view on Machu Picchu. We stayed there for about 15-20 minutes, taking pictures before heading down again. We had now been at Machu Picchu for about 6 hours and were absolutely exhausted, and it felt like it was time to head back to Aguas Calientes. Simen’s knee started acting up during the descent of Huayna Picchu, so we decided to take the bus down to Aguas Calientes for 12 dollars. At around 2 PM we arrived at our hotel, very satisfied and happy, but also very tired. What a birthday…!

Machu Picchu
View on Machu Picchu from Huayna Picchu

We took the train back at 4.12 PM and finally arrived back in Cusco at around 9 PM. Now we need a couple of days to recover from our amazing Salkantay and Machu Picchu adventure.

Salkantay Trekking

We chose Salkantay Trekking because of everything this tour operator has to offer. Quite a lot of the other operators don’t offer such amazing accommodation as Salkantay Trekking. The sky domes, Andean huts and jungle domes were very fancy and comfortable. The food Salkantay Trekking offers is also absolutely outstanding. It’s like eating at a fancy restaurant! You won’t go hungry at all. Our guide Roy was also amazing. He was very funny, kind and understanding. He taught us a lot about the Inca’s and Andean culture and was just a great guide to hike with for 5 days! 10/10 would recommend this company!